Time and Again

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-one

Plots and Plans

 

 

Buck turned and half saluted the med tech.  He smiled at her, but he felt anything but jaunty.  The sight of Wilma so sick and the thought of her suffering as he had infuriated him.  “Thanks.  I’ll be back as soon as I take care of some unfinished business.” 

“Captain Rogers,” she said, getting up and walking to the door where he waited. 

“Yes?”

She leaned up and kissed him quickly, then stepped back with an enigmatic smile on her face. 

Buck was taken aback.  “What the heck was that for?” he asked in surprise. 

“I was planning on telling you what an arrogant, immature starfighter jockey I thought you were, but I changed my mind,” she said.

Buck just stood gaping for a moment.  “Am I missing something?  Like maybe the subway to Times Square?”

The med tech cocked her head in bewilderment, but apparently decided to let his comment pass.  “Wilma has had feelings for you almost since the day you flew into New Chicago in that antiquated space ship of yours.  Why do you think she put her career as leader of the Defense Force on hiatus, perhaps permanently, to join the crew of the Searcher?  And as a communications officer, no less!”

“She wanted a change of venue?” Buck asked, and then realized when the med tech frowned that he had said the wrong thing.  But why, he didn’t know.  This woman was exasperating.  He sighed and reined in his irritation.  “Look, lady, I don’t really know why.  Wilma just passed it off as something she decided to do because she wanted to try something different for a while.  So you tell me why.”

“You.”

“Me?” Buck asked in surprise.  “But … but I figured the Directorate had asked her and she really didn’t really want to leave, so she was being nonchalant….”    Wait a minute!  It was getting much harder to keep his equanimity with this tech who seemed to be so intimate with all the details of Wilma’s life.  And that ‘arrogant’ crack!   Who died and made this woman my conscience?  “And who are you, by the way, that you seem to know so much about Wilma and about me?  Enough to be more than a little obtrusive.”

The med tech gave a Mona Lisa smile.  “I guess that’s a fair question, Captain.  I am Nora Deering, Wilma’s aunt.  I am on call for the bio-hazard team and when I found out that Wilma was the carrier of the contagion, I put myself down on the roster to be her critical care tech.”   She glanced at her niece and then turned back to Buck.  “No, Wilma often confided in me.”   She looked again at Wilma, lying peacefully on the bed.  “You just made my niece a very happy woman, Captain.”  She paused and looked meaningfully at Buck. “Or was Wilma right?”

Buck paused, feeling like a suspected warlock during the Inquisition.  “Right?  Oh, no, I really admire Wilma.  I mean . . . look, I don’t really know what will happen in the future, but I do want to get to….”  Then he stopped, embarrassed.  “What am I standing here for?  I have a job to do!”   Again, she was giving him that enigmatic smile.  Buck was thankful that Wilma wasn’t more like this guardian aunt of hers. 

“Captain Rogers, I would really appreciate it if you didn’t repeat our conversation to Wilma.”

That suited him fine.  “Uh, sure.  And ditto.” 

“What?”

“I would appreciate your discretion as well,” he elaborated.  “I mean, this really is between Wilma and I,” Buck said, fixing her with a hard gaze.

Her voice and demeanor softened.  “Thanks and I understand.  And by the way, if Wilma wakes up before you return, when shall I tell her you are coming back to see her?”

“When I shove an asteroid sized hockey puck down Foreenizor’s throat.  And you can quote me.”  And with that he pivoted and strode out of the room, not believing that he had almost bared his soul to a virtual stranger, relative of a friend or not.  

 

                                ================================

 

Foreenizor gazed at the reports that Jreeshnar had gathered for him.  Most were from news vids, speculating at what secret the Directorate was keeping from the public, speculating as to why travel to and from Earth was suddenly and drastically curtailed.  He looked up in satisfaction.  Jreeshnar was watching him from across the table.  “It has begun, Jreeshnar.  Soon they will close their defensive shield and the virus will really begin to do its deadly job.” 

“Yes, Doctor.  How long do you think it will take?”

“Several weeks, maybe a bit more.  The beauty of all this is that it will probably be blamed on a holocaulistic mutated virus,” Foreenizor said.  “I only wish I knew how extensive it has spread so far.   Then we could make more accurate projections.” 

“Sir, what if someone with the virus leaves before the shield is closed?  Won’t they spread the contagion to other terrans in the galaxy?”

Foreenizor looked sharply at his assistant.  “It is unlikely, but if that is the case, then we can intercept them . . . for the good of the galaxy, of course.   And we will get our information at the same time.” 

Jreeshnar nodded and stood.  “I will continue to monitor the Earth communications.”   He walked out to the main bridge of the ship and was met by Breearth and Mreesa. 

“Sir, we are worried.  There seems to be something happening on the planet.  We have tried to contact Wilma Deering and even the Directorate and we continually get our messages returned.  We have heard rumors of something terrible going on.  Do you have any information?” Breearth asked.

Jreeshnar paused.  “I have heard the same rumors, but the communications I have received from Earth have not indicated anything of a serious nature.  I will continue to try to contact someone from the Directorate.  As soon as I do, I will let you know.”

“Thank you, sir.  We have prepared everything we need to begin working on the first floratat, but we can’t get clearance to begin the work,” Mreesa said.

“I will do what I can,” Jreeshnar said in dismissal.   The two floratat designers nodded and left.  

Jreeshnar checked the communications bands and found basically the same rumors coming from all the cities.   Then he saw a craft leaving New Chicago.  The specifications showed it to be an alien craft, not one of the Directorate’s starfighters, but more importantly, as soon as it was safely above the exosphere of Earth, his computer showed a closing of the defensive shield and a sub-light warning to all approaching Earth.   He activated the communication panel and attempted contact with the ship. 

 

                                              =========================

 

Aunt, indeed, Buck thought.   His Aunt Marla had been the biggest gossip in Chicago.  She had darn near had him married off to Jennifer before his launch.  Buck was ready to kick himself for losing control, but then he remembered Nora Deering’s words, ‘you made my niece a very happy woman.’  That was basically what he wanted to do anyway.  That and comfort her in her misery.  But it still didn’t make him feel any better that he did it in front of that med tech relative of hers.   He stalked into his room. 

“Was Wilma awake?” Hawk asked, puzzled by the array of emotions he was seeing on his friend’s face.

“Yes, and we talked for a few minutes until she fell asleep again.  And I talked to her nurse, too.”

“Then you know?” Hawk asked.

“Know what?  That she’s getting better?” he asked, still thinking about bossy aunts and irritating med techs.  “Yeah, I know she’s getting better.”

“She almost died, Buck.  Njobo’s medicine kept her alive until the prototype serum was developed,” Hawk explained.

Buck stood silent for a moment, stunned by the revelation.  “The Lagrithians developed that virus for maximum effect in minimum time.  And it worked even faster on her than it did on me,” Buck said, also muttering a few vile epitaphs under his breath, feeling the heat of his anger growing again.  Then he clamped down on his emotions.  Now was not the time to waste time and energy on useless anger.  Now, more than ever, Buck was determined to do what he had been half-planning on doing ever since Hawk had found him.  Now was the time for action.  “Hawk, where is Twiki and Theo?”

“I would assume they are with Dr. Huer,” Hawk replied.  “What have you got on your mind?”

“A visit to the Lagrithian ship.  But I’ll need your help to make it work.”

Njobo stirred and sat up, blinking in the artificial light.  He gazed at Buck.  “You are better, Buck!” he exclaimed happily. 

Buck nodded, knowing that Njobo could not understand him.

“You can speak to me now.  The mangese, Dr. Huer, gave me the same type of thing that allowed you to understand me.  It’s magic now lets me understand everybody.” 

Buck smiled.  “Hey, that’s great, Njobo.  You have a good sleep?”

“Yes, Buck, but a hut is more comfortable, do you not agree?”

“Um, no comment, Njobo,” Buck replied.  “I am going to pay a visit to the Lagrithians, the madmen, so you’ll need to wait here with Theo and Twiki until I get back.” 

Njobo looked alarmed.  “But isn’t that dangerous?”

“Not if I do it right.”

“Perhaps you had better explain this plan you have included me in,” Hawk said sardonically.  “And then I can tell you if it has even a slight chance of success.”

“Basically, I want to surprise Foreenizor. I want to show him he failed.  That’s it, a simple confrontation.  Dr. Huer has been in contact with the Galactic Council, but I still want the satisfaction of facing the Lagrithians myself.” 

“I agree with Njobo. It is an unnecessary risk.  Let the Council take care of it,” Hawk replied.

“Hawk, didn’t you tell me that your father in law had appealed to the Galactic Council, or its equivilant, some years ago.  And didn’t you tell me that he was essentially ignored.  And that was when your people decided to live far from civilization?  And to have as little to do with humans as you possibly could?   Telling me to let the Council take care of it seems a bit strange coming from someone for whom the Council didn’t do squat,” Buck said tersely.   “But personally, I really don’t care if it’s risky or not. I know what the Lagrithians put me through, and I saw what they have put Wilma through and I want them to see that they can’t kill us.  The Holocaust didn’t break us and the Lagrithians sure as hell can’t either.”  By now Buck’s eyes were blazing with anger.  “Are you helping me or do I go it alone?”

Hawk remembered his people’s struggle to survive in an increasingly bigoted world, and the indifference of the Galactic Council and felt chagrined at his suggestion.   Risky or not, Buck was right.  “You are right, of course, Buck, on both counts.  I was only worried about you doing this so soon after your illness.   I think I need to go with you in order to keep you from killing the Lagrithian leader.  Somehow, I do not think the Directorate would like that if you did.”

“That’s not a bad idea, Hawk,” Buck said with a slightly feral smile.   “But I certainly won’t entertain that thought until I found out why they did this.”

“When do you want to go?”

“Now.”

“Now?” Hawk asked, and then realized that he shouldn’t be surprised.  “But the doctor said you weren’t fully recovered.”

“I’m recovered enough to do this,” Buck retorted.  Njobo looked from one man to the other like a spectator at a tennis match.   “So are you still coming?” Buck asked Hawk.

“Of course, Buck.  That was never an issue.  Only your health and I see that is not an issue either.”

Buck pressed the communications button.  When a voice responded, he ordered, “This is Captain Rogers.  Send the drone, Twiki, to my room.  I would like to see Dr. Theopolis of the computer council as well.”  Then he thought of something else.  “Oh, and bring me a new uniform.”

Only then did Buck see the tray by his bed.  His stomach did a double take.  “Dinner?”

“Yes, Buck.”

Buck looked at Hawk and Njobo.  “You two had something to eat?”

“I have, but Njobo was still asleep,” Hawk said.

Buck lifted the lid on the tray and was astonished at how appetizing it looked.  Steam rose and hit him in the face.  This was definitely an improvement on twentieth century hospital food.  “Come and help me eat it, Njobo,” Buck invited.  He sat on the edge of his bed and picked up a fork, then he began thinking of the confrontation with Foreenizor.  Suddenly the food didn’t seem so appetizing.  Dutifully, Buck swallowed a bite of syntha beefsteak and then picked at the rest. 

The door slid open and Twiki and Theo arrived with his uniform.  “What do you have in mind, Buck?” Theo asked.  

“I see Dr. Huer isn’t with you.  Is he feeling all right?” 

“He has a mild case of what you had, but it precluded him coming to see you himself.”

Twiki handed him the uniform. 

“Thanks, Twiki.”  Buck turned his attention to Theo.  “Did Dr. Huer get a chance to leak any of that news I was talking to him about yesterday?”

“No, Buck, but there have been rumors flying on the vid casts that the Lagrithians could easily have picked up.”

“Great!”

“What do you have in mind, Buck?” Theo repeated. 

Buck picked at his dinner a little longer and then gave it to Njobo.  “Only if you promise not to tell me how sick I still am, Theo.  I’m still going to follow through and nothing you can say will stop me.”  Theo only blinked and Buck took that as an affirmative.  He detailed what he had in mind.

“Surely you cannot be serious?” 

“Surely I am.”

“But what if the Lagrithians do something drastic?” Theo asked.

“Then I’ll do something equally drastic.”  Buck paused and pondered. “I am not sure just what we’ll do if Foreenizor gets ugly.  And I really don’t care what the galactic mucky mucks do with him and his cohorts when I’m done.  I have to confront them.” 

“I think I understand, Buck.  I am just worried about you.  I was with you through your sickness.”

“Theo,” Buck said, exasperated.  “I am all right!  I am going to do this and then I’m going to take Wilma to City by the Sea and treat her to a real fish dinner.  None of this syntha stuff.”

“Very well, Buck.”

While they were talking Buck changed behind a partition.  He was chagrined to note that the uniform was a bit loose, but that wouldn’t affect what he was about to do.  When he finished, he turned to Hawk.  “You ready?”

“Yes, Buck. I am finding myself somewhat interested in meeting these people.  And I am going to enjoy the reaction when they discover that you have foiled their plans.” 

 

 

 

 

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